We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Bell, Ernest (1851–1933), publisher and animal welfare campaigner, was born on 8 March 1851 at West Croft, England's Lane, Hampstead, Middlesex, the second son of the publisher [see under ] and Hannah Simpson (d. 1875). Ernest went to St Paul's School, and was admitted as a pensioner to Trinity College, Cambridge, on 5 June 1869, graduating BA (1873), and MA (1876). He became converted to vegetarianism at Cambridge in 1874 after having read a pamphlet by Thomas Low Nichols entitled How to Live on Sixpence a Day; Bell was known throughout his life for his spartan habits and simple tastes. After Cambridge he went to Dresden to learn German. He was first married to Elize Wilhelmina Wolfel (d. 1881?), with whom he had a daughter, and in 1893 married Marie Anna von Taysen; there were apparently no children.

Bell spent most of his adult years in the family publishing business, G. Bell & Sons, in Portugal Street, Kingsway, London, joining as partner in 1888. Ernest became a competent editor for the company, translating Bohn's Standard Library of Classics from German, and editing the popular All England Series of Athletic Sports. It may be due to him that from the 1890s G. Bell & Sons is also found publishing for the Vegetarian Society and the Humanitarian League. Bell was known to be the first English publisher to develop an interest in the works and followers of the American primitivist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Bell's personal beliefs brought him further publishing successes and a public profile later in his career. He was described as modest and retiring, with an amiable personality and firm convictions: ‘it may be that others were more prominent … but no contemporary leader has equalled him in effective humanitarian work in all its phases. His main purpose was to lighten the load of the suffering man and beast’ (Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review, 310). After 1893 he gave much of his time to administration and fund-raising for three main reform causes: vegetarianism, humanitarianism, and animal welfare. Bell's fervency, family wealth, and publishing background made him an effective organizer. He became the honorary secretary of the Hampstead branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and was later chairman of the Anti-Vivisection Society. At various times he was on the governing councils of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Canine Defence League, the Cat's Protection League, the Pit-Ponies Protection Society, and the Anti-Bearing-Rein Association. He was in particular a main force behind the Animals' Friend Society (founded 1834). Twenty-two separate societies joined in giving him a lifetime award in 1929 in recognition of his work for animal causes. He was also an early member of the Humanitarian League, which had close connections with the Vegetarian Society; he became vice-president of the Vegetarian Society in 1896, and finally its president in 1914, a long tenure which only ended with his death in 1933.

Throughout his life Bell donated much of his income to his societies, including donating all the profits from the best-selling Bell's Joy Book (1926, a collection of printed games and puzzles) to the Vegetarian Home for Children, of which he was a strong supporter. His first known publication, The Animals' Friend (with 68 illustrations), was published in 1904. This was followed by ‘Christmas cruelties’, in 1905, published in The Humane Review by the Humanitarian League; and a well-known series of schoolbooks called the Animals Life Readers. The Animals' Friend magazine, which he edited, ran into the 1920s and was revived as an imprint for pamphlets and books after 1926, when he succeeded his brother [see under ] as chairman of G. Bell & Sons. In 1920 he published In a Nutshell: Cons and Pros of the Meatless Diet. Bell was active into old age—his well-known Fair Treatment for Animals, which first appeared in the Animals' Friend, was still in print, and his final text, the Proper Relationship between Men and the other Animals, was published in 1927. Bell died on 14 September 1933, at his home, Althorpe, Waverley Grove, Hendon, Middlesex. He was survived by his wife.

Virginia Smith


WWW · Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review, 30/10, 8th ser. (Oct 1933), 301, 310–13 · The Times (15 Sept 1933), 24 · Venn, Alum. Cant. · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1933) · private information (2005) [D. Montague]


portrait, repro. in Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review, 313

Wealth at death  

£36,740 0s. 1d.: probate, 13 Nov 1933, CGPLA Eng. & Wales